Exploring all of art’s edges
Cleverly curated exhibit looks at just what constitutes a ‘painting’
In the art world, “painting’’ represents a cosmology of ideas that in addition to imagery includes surface, materiality, and placement on a wall. Hang a flat tire on the wall, and you evoke a painting - one that calls out Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made sculpture “Bicycle Wheel.’’ And there you are in Modernism’s conceptual whirl, in which narrative plays second string to a heady, sometimes thrilling, admittedly navel-gazing inquiry into what constitutes art.
“Not About Paint,’’ a cheeky and delightful group show put together by Evan J. Garza at Steven Zevitas Gallery, hits the sweet spot of this evolving discussion. The exhibit features little paint, but it’s all about painting. A floor piece, a video, and wall sculptures all probe and pry at what a painting is.
The floor piece, Alex Da Corte’s “Soda Painting No. 11 (Pleasure Principle)’’ looks the most painterly. Da Corte painted with soda - grape, I’m guessing, orange, and cherry, in puddles on intersecting lengths of cellophane. The soda oozes like paint on an expressionist canvas; the piece’s form and crisscrossing colors are classic geometric abstraction.
Jessica Stockholder has been pushing at painting’s (and art’s) boundaries for years with her constructions made of stuff you might pick up at Building 19. Like Duchamp, she investigates the ordinary as art object. The title of her piece here lists its components: “carpet, framed leather, yarn, plastic parts, place mat, shelving unit part . . . ’’ It goes on. It hangs on the wall, quirky and inviting, with arch compositional grace. James Hyde made “Swimmer’’ out of bright green, blue, and white-striped nylon bands, which stretch, loop, and tangle across the wall like the skeins in a Brice Marden painting.
Alex Hubbard’s cunning video “Annotated Plans for an Evacuation’’ uses a car as canvas and image. Hubbard attaches a backdrop to the old sedan with duct tape, so it looks like a painting of a car. He spray paints the windows and coats the tires. The car rolls along. When it stops, Hubbard puts green cans on the trunk; he cuts a wedge from the backdrop, opens the hood, and more. It’s painting composition in action. I’ve never seen a painting more out of the box. Even outside the box, the basic understandings of form, color, and composition hold steady.
Blanket statement Samantha Fields recovers old afghans. They are the basic stuff of her show at NK Gallery, which recently moved across Thayer Street to Walker Con temporary’s old spot at 450 Harrison Ave. To me, they speak of another era, when there was time to take on ambitious domestic projects. Visually, too, they’re fairly stodgy - striped, spangled, or flowery. A good quilt has more subtlety and rhythm. All of this makes afghans perfect material for reclamation by an artist.
Fields generally does beautifully by them, opening holes and festooning them with beads. Unfortunately, her large-scale sculptural pieces, such as “before the (expletive) hit the fan,’’ a mishmash of items including afghans, hidden light fixtures, and table legs, are more cumbersome, conceptually and physically. But smaller works such as “composition with circle II’’ show a light hand and a sense of letting go. This one features a white afghan stretched over a wooden frame. An open circle inside it froths with glass beads and little white pellets of yarn.
Draped around a corner jutting into the gallery, “triptych with 206,720 beads’’ sports three sections of striped afghans along the top, each giving way to showers of sparkling, translucent strings of beads landing in slithering coils on the floor. It’s as if the mundane afghans are melting into exquisite dreams of what they could be.
In the flesh “Naked,’’ the summer group show at Howard Yezerski Gallery, playfully investigates the pleasures and mortifications of the flesh. It’s an elegantly hung show. Denise Marika’s video “Leg,’’ in which the artist’s naked leg lies almost painfully atop a pale stretch of fallen tree, is installed across the gallery from photographer Peter Hujar’s slickly beautiful reclining, leggy nude, “Anthony Blonde.’’ In between sits Rona Pondick’s rusty carbon steel sculpture “Untitled Animal,’’ in which a cast of the artist’s leg monstrously conjoins with the torso of a small, seal-like critter. These works are wildly different in concept, but formally in concert.
Other favorites: Emily Eveleth’s painting “Sultan’’ portrays the oozing orifice of a jelly doughnut, but conveys something of the flesh. Photographer Barbara Norfleet offers a startlingly weird color portrait of a wide-eyed, wild-haired naked doll in the grass in “Prepubescent With Pansy.’’ Robert Feintuch’s sad, sweet painting “Bacchus’’ offers a profile of a middle-age fellow in his boxers, standing but stooped, holding a small bunch of grapes out in front of him.
John O’Reilly’s “The Bathers’’ has as its backdrop a reproduction of a Degas pastel. We see the beginning of the curve of a nude hip rising from the red tub, and O’Reilly seamlessly attaches that hip to the back of a man embracing another man in a photo, and they lean directly into another torn photo of a splayed hairy leg. O’Reilly’s montage artfully knits together artistic dreaming with erotic longing - just the right theme for an exhibit of nudes.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.